Richard Salmon (PMU, Université de Leeds, R-U) “Labour of the Self: The Bildungsroman and Nineteenth-Century British Fiction’
Almost all of the major nineteenth-century British novelists, from Walter Scott in the first two decades to Thomas Hardy in the 1890s, were familiar with Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, and some with other important examples of the German Enlightenment and Romantic theorization of Bildung. Popular writers of fiction such as Scott, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and George Eliot had an extensive knowledge of, and scholarly interest in, German literature, while others, such as Dickens and Charlotte Brontë, had access to translated editions. While it is not the aim of this paper to trace the influence of the German Bildungsroman on the development of nineteenth-century British fiction, such an undertaking need not be confined to seemingly marginal or obscure novels of the period. The list of Victorian novels which directly invoke or appropriate Wilhelm Meister, or which through varying layers of mediation reconfigure specific formal and thematic elements of the Goethean Bildungsroman, includes some of the most recognizable titles, as well as a multitude of less familiar ones. This discussion explores a wide range of nineteenth-century British fiction that can be read in relation to the generic model of the Bildungsroman, recognizing that like all acts of generic classification the model to which individual texts are aligned is, to some extent, an abstraction composed of a range of elements which are rarely reproduced in their entirety in any concrete instance. At the same time, and in contrast to some recent critical accounts of the genre, I would emphasize the relative cohesion of a body of Victorian fiction that works through the cultural legacies of the German Bildungsroman, acquiring by the end of the century its own internal momentum and intertextual frame of reference.
Richard Salmon is Senior Lecturer in English Literature (Victorian) : My main research interests lie within the field of Nineteenth-Century British and American literature and culture. I have particular interests in the Victorian novel; authorship and the literary profession; celebrity culture; Victorian periodicals and print culture; literature and modernity; Henry James; and W.M. Thackeray.
My work on the development of professional authorship in the early Victorian period culminated in the publication of The Formation of the Victorian Literary Profession (Cambridge University Press, 2013). This book examines the figure of the author in narrative and iconographic texts of the mid-nineteenth century alongside the emergence of professional literary organizations. It discusses the work of a number of major Victorian writers, including Thomas Carlyle, William Thackeray, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Harriet Martineau, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Charles Kingsley. I am currently planning a sequel to this volume, which will examine the influence of Walter Besant’s Incorporated Society of Authors on late-Victorian literary culture and technologies of writing.